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Uber isn’t the problem; taxi regulations are (bostonglobe.com)
74 points by heelhook on June 26, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 115 comments



>>Most notoriously, attaining “The Knowledge” required for a taxi license involves memorizing hundreds of routes, business locations, and places of interest throughout the city. Charming, but expensive — and quite unnecessary in the age of smartphones.

Says a person who has never been to London and doesn't understand the enormous benefit of intimate knowledge of all the streets of London and how to navigate them quickly. No smartphone is going to help you there, even the best sat nav is not as good as simply knowing that if there is a match in the city some streets are best to be avoided hours before the event. I, for one, support wholeheartedly the requirement for London drivers to pass this difficult test.


I have a spinal cord injury (snowboarding) and use a wheelchair as a result of having no sensation/movement below my chest. One of the most annoying consequences is being unable to move around London quickly. The tube is inaccessible, buses are slow and you often have to have a pitched battle with pushchairs.

Black cabs provided a relatively quick/convenient method of transport since they all have a ramp - not without issue but possible to get in one in less that a minute. I've not tried uber yet as I'm apprehensive about the hassle of getting in and out and getting the driver to help stow my chair. People are usually pretty keen to be helpful but it's a bit tricky and their default idea of helping is often counter productive. Also if they don't stop near the kerb you have to get them to move and the passenger side of a car is harder to get in and out due to the height of the kerb.

Black cab resides effectively subsidise my ability to get around so I am somewhat concerned to think they might be 'disrupted' wholesale.


This is easily the best (and possibly only good) argument I've seen in favour of traditional cabs. The right kind of regulation can dramatically improve accessibility to people who are otherwise at risk of becoming marginalised.

Unregulated competition always has the risk of marginalising minorities because they might be too small to be an attractive market.


What Uber is aiming for is not "unregulated competition" but ANY competition at all. Something that doesn't exist in many taxi markets.


This doesn't make any sense. Subsidized cabs can coexist with the likes of Uber/Lyft. Do you think subsidized apartments don't exist or something?


Point is they are plentiful - I can hail a cab in minutes but if they become rare I could wait 30 minutes for the 'special' cab to show up.


If they become rare, wouldn't the market supply more cabs? I mean, how do you think food supply works?


I think you are the one who doesn't understand how food supply works. Stores stock items which are popular - not ones which sell rarely. If disabled passengers are less than 5% of all taxi passengers, private companies might ignore them entirely because they are not worth the investment into their fleet.


"The free market will fix it" has historically not been an effective answer to problems the disabled have.


Yes, but then you have to subsidize them. There are also advantages to cabs not needing subsidies.


Well if Uber or similar cannot serve this population then it would mean competition is not going to totally kill off existing services which do. He is already making a choice not to use public transportation not because it does not support his need but fails to meet his desire.

Not providing a service is not discrimination, refusing to provide is. Uber and others can simply have selection criteria listed for owners who support disabled or even large people. If there is a market for it I am sure people will step up.


This is the first thing that jumped out at me. Taxi drivers in London are brilliant.

Try using a Taxi in Melbourne. Most of the drivers don't know the most basic of knowledge. Main roads in the city? No idea. The casino? "Could you direct me?". Getting into a bloody Taxi in the city for a fare less than 20kms is a lesson in patience. You often have to lie about where you're going until you get into the cab.

Regulations aren't the problem. Most regulations exist for good reason, and there should be more of the better ones (and less of the worse..).

I've used Uber and really like the service when I'm going a fare (sorry) distance. But they are just as bad, if not worse, than cabs when it's only a short trip around the city.

I believe both services could co-exist, but something drastic needs to happen to shake up the Taxi business. Perhaps charge a higher flag-fall and a smaller per km rate. Try to increase the rate of owner-drivers rather than a lease out to drivers. There has been a lot of discussion in Melbourne about how to improve the service, but so far it seems to be getting worse.


> I've used Uber and really like the service when I'm going a fare (sorry) distance. But they are just as bad, if not worse, than cabs when it's only a short trip around the city.

I'm interested in hearing more about your Uber experiences. In my experience (and that of everyone I know), Uber has been great for short and longer distances. The Uber drivers don't even know where you want them to go until you're already in the car, so there's no way for them to discriminate.


There were two separate occasions where I tried to book an Uber driver for a short fare and no drivers accepted. Perhaps both situations were just a lack of drivers and I incorrectly assumed it was the short fare.


Even in NYC, if you need to take a cab from Manhattan to one of the other boroughs, you often have to give them directions.

It's frustrating because there's usually a small language barrier, and they know Manhattan just fine. Some have satnav/smart phones, but usually they do not - and end up relying on my smartphone for turn by turn directions.


Last time I was in London, I mentioned the name of a grotty backpackers hostel, not even remembering what road it was on, and the driver immediately started off towards it.

Compare this to having to mess about on Google Maps for five minutes to figure out where we're going and potentially end up on the wrong side of the city anyway, which has happened to me in other cities. There's definitely something in having your driver have knowledge of the city.


I got into a black taxi once, and read off the text that my wife had sent telling me where to meet her. She didn't know the name of the restaurant and got the name of the street wrong.

The taxi driver just said, "Do you mean [restaurant name] on [name of correct street]?" And sure enough, he was right.


I think the vast majority of people would rather look it up on Google Maps for five minutes and save $5.


If they can look things up on Google Maps, they can take the tube or the bus or even cycle, reduce congestion, and hopefully save that £2.94.


I understand that it's useful for a taxi driver to have this knowledge, but do we really need the government to impose it as a strict requirement? One could imagine multiple taxi services that compete on different axes. One service, competing on price, could have less knowledgeable drivers equipped with GPS devices. Another service, competing on its drivers' knowledge, would be more useful for taking you to obscure locations or navigating the streets quickly.

It's like any other industry, really. Can you imagine if short order cooks were required to have the same encyclopedic knowledge as the chefs in a high end restaurant? You'd just end up with some very expensive diners.


There is a thing called: customer protection. This applies for all sorts of products and services. One of those services is taxi as part of transportation. Part of this is, that drivers are educated, trust worthy and the vehicles are in good shape as well as having a minimum insurance in protection of the customer.

Also if you have 2 or more companies competing over who has the best service, that is good. But all of them have to provide a minimum quality service. Especially, for foreigners who don't know anything. For that reason regulation is required.

That regulation also can go wrong, is a different story. Then, of course, it has to be fixed.

But Uber (and some others) try to undermine any kind of regulation and so cutting costs to enable cheaper service.

That is like Food safety regulations. Like there is a new startup, which has provides a service like Amazon Fresh. It is cheaper by using just peoples cars, which may have no cooling possibility in their vehicles. Then blaming the food safety regulations are wrong because they require cooling facilities for fresh food not putting peoples life at risk.


> But Uber (and some others) try to undermine any kind of regulation and so cutting costs to enable cheaper service.

I can only speak for Cambridge, MA (which this article also mentions), but Uber has consistently provided a VASTLY superior experience compared to traditional Cambridge cab companies. Cambridge cabs are ludicrously overpriced; are frequently poorly maintained and old; have drivers who speak poor English, talk on the phone during the whole trip, and don't know where they are going; don't accept credit cards; have overpriced fixed cost routes to popular destinations (thanks government); sometimes won't even take a fare unless they judge it's worth their while; and are hard to find.

Contrast this with Uber where the vehicles come to you; the drivers are vetted and courteous (and can be punished if they are not); the cars are new and generally nice (I have even been picked up in Mercedes S500s and a BMW 7 series on Uber X, and my friend was once picked up in a Tesla); the payment process is simple with no bullshit about tipping; the drivers are about as knowledgeable about locations as traditional Cambridge cabs; and it's CHEAPER.

I don't normally care much about local government affairs, but if Cambridge tries to protect the inferior cab service by banning Uber, I will be at the polling stations come next election trying to vote out anyone involved.


> > But Uber (and some others) try to undermine any kind of regulation and so cutting costs to enable cheaper service.

> I can only speak for Cambridge, MA (which this article also mentions), but Uber has consistently provided a VASTLY superior experience compared to traditional Cambridge cab companies. Cambridge cabs are ludicrously overpriced; are frequently poorly maintained and old; have drivers who speak poor English, talk on the phone during the whole trip, and don't know where they are going; don't accept credit cards; have overpriced fixed cost routes to popular destinations (thanks government); sometimes won't even take a fare unless they judge it's worth their while; and are hard to find.

You have read:

> > That regulation also can go wrong, is a different story. Then, of course, it has to be fixed.

Here in Germany, about 60% of the taxi market is having a Mercedes E-Class model. Taxi cars are required to have a yearly inspection regarding road safety. Drivers need the have a permit, to allow passenger transportation. You can easily loose this permit on any kind of wrong behavior in terms of not following road safety rules. The taxi driver is required to execute any driving request within city limits (coverage). They are allows to reject you only under very strict requirements like if they could argue on personal safety. You, as a passenger, can blame anybody in terms of customer satisfaction. But, of course, if you don't blame, don't expect things to change by itself. Basically, the same applies to most countries I have been, like almost all over (western) Europe, Japan. Of course, quality differs from city to city. In Milano, IT, I have been driven by taxi driver over red light. But that is how Italian drivers drive in some parts of Italy. It is their mentality. In Spain the taxis are a bit messier then in German. But that also applies for rentals in Spain. They also have their scratches and dents. The experience in London - also mentioned in that article - superior, like in most parts of England.

That said, if your regulations are shitty, don't blame the government, because YOU elected the government. So get active to change things.


There are already two powerful forces protecting consumers, reputation and tort law. A taxi service with poor service will not be in business for long, because its reputation will crumble, and if the service is truly negligent (for example, by driving vehicles that are in dangerously poor shape), the customer who is harmed can sue, not to mention traffic laws that already punish any driver who endangers other drivers on the road.

You say that foreigners don't know anything, but I think most travelers would disagree. When I travel to a foreign country, I am still fully capable of researching the best hotels and restaurants, despite not speaking the native tongue. Taxi service isn't any different.

I'm not saying all consumer protection laws are unnecessary, but you have to remember that regulation has a cost. Of course, there's the cost in tax money, but also the fact that regulations are slow to change when necessary. Perhaps the largest risk is regulatory capture, which we've clearly seen in the taxi industry in a number of places. For example, from the linked article:

> In France, the proposed remedy was simple: a mandated delay of 15 minutes between ordering a ride from Uber and the passenger pick-up.

I find it inconceivable that this sort of regulation is meant to protect consumers. Clearly its only purpose is to protect the profits of traditional taxis.


> There are already two powerful forces protecting consumers, reputation and tort law. A taxi service with poor service will not be in business for long, because its reputation will crumble, and if the service is truly negligent (for example, by driving vehicles that are in dangerously poor shape), the customer who is harmed can sue, not to mention traffic laws that already punish any driver who endangers other drivers on the road.

If it is cheap enough, people will still use it without thinking about their risks.

> You say that foreigners don't know anything, but I think most travelers would disagree. When I travel to a foreign country, I am still fully capable of researching the best hotels and restaurants, despite not speaking the native tongue. Taxi service isn't any different.

I travel a lot for business and for leisure. Just returned from a 5 weeks trip in Bhutan and the Himalayas. When arriving at my destination, I will take the taxi that is available there. So, I require and rely on, that I have an immediate possibility to check, if a minimum service quality is guaranteed. The guarantee is given by a trustee and the trustee should be government. I don't research hotels in advance. Because the hotel quality assurance is called stars. I know, in this country I have to book a 4 star hotel and in Germany I can go with a 2 star or better 3 star. So, there is an international system and also quality assurance system. There is no such thing for taxi, because local government is basically providing that kind of service.

> > In France, the proposed remedy was simple: a mandated delay of 15 minutes between ordering a ride from Uber and the passenger pick-up.

> I find it inconceivable that this sort of regulation is meant to protect consumers. Clearly its only purpose is to protect the profits of traditional taxis.

France is always very special, especially Paris. I have experienced several shutdown on public trains or taxis as of blocked roads, just because they are on strike again.


So you're basically saying that mutually consenting adults shouldn't be able to choose their own taxi arrangements, correct?

Comparing this to food safety is quite ludicrous. You can sell apples without an "apple vendor" license.


>>You can sell apples without an "apple vendor" license.

You don't need a licence,but you need to make sure your apples adhere to hundreds of different regulations regarding food safety. The same thing here - people transporting passengers for money should adhere to regulations that make such business safe for everyone.


We have several companies operating in Melbourne and they are all awful. We don't have any (decent) requirements as far as road knowledge goes. I've also been to London, and the experience with cabs there was wonderful. The requirement to pass a substantial test is a fantastic one, and should be adopted in more places.


I'd rather pay cheaper fares, but thanks for deciding for me.


The problem with cabs is the information asymmetry. You dot know before you're getting in how good their knowledge is, this means that knowledgeable drivers can't charge more and you get a 'market of lemons'. This is a classic form of market failure, and is a strong case for regulation.


There's nothing stopping a competitor from starting a cab company that charges more and gives all their employees a difficult test. Of course, few would use it because few are willing to pay more money for having a knowledgeable taxi driver.


You dot know before you're getting in how good their knowledge is

Why not? Grant a certification with the test, allow cab owners/companies to put a mark on the car/site/etc, sue people using the mark without authorization. Cabs around here already have big ads on their doors, I don't see why couldn't they have a logo advertising their knowledge.


So any small business or startup without name recognition should be restricted from the marketplace by a higher authority until a government entity approves its service? Is that what you're saying? Wouldn't this basically kill Ycombinator?


Yes, that's how it works. If you want to run a restaurant you need to obtain a certificate saying that it's safe and hygienic, if you want to run a theatre you need to make sure that emergency exits are clearly marked and that there is sufficient ventilation, and also, if you want to transport people for money you need to have a certificate that says that 1) you are able to physically 2) your vehicle is in good enough condition. For all of those things you need the "higher authority" and it's a good thing.


Transport is the lifeblood of a city, and is extremely important to that city's economy. I think it's reasonable to say that it's a little different than the next photo-sharing app.


Who's stopping you? London has thousands of mini-cabs. Just google London minicab, and phone one of the numbers.

Have you actually ever been to London?


Googling is not an option when I'm on the street and I need a cab (I don't have mobile Internet access, nor can I justify the cost), which is most of the times when I actually take one.


For people who want to get around cheaply, London has an excellent mass public transport system, between the tube, buses, and intra-city train services.


You mean if you want to get around quickly. If you want to get around cheaply you need to buy a bicycle (or take a Barclay's bike and keep it under 30 mins).


Really? £1.40 will get you from Lewisham to Newington Green if you're prepared to take a bus[1].

By comparison, back in my lovely hometown of Plymouth, a two and half mile bus hop will set you back 3 quid. (Fortunately, the taxis are cheap.)

London transport, for what you get, is great value. And it's definitely better than any other big city I've had the pleasure of visiting. Londoners moan about it, but then no matter how efficient or economically enticing, an urban mass transport system will always be associated in the mind with hellish rush-hour commutes, and thus a germane subject for grumbling.

[1] http://tfl.gov.uk/bus/route/21


You're right about buses being cheap if you can get a direct route. However during peak periods that will potentially take hours, easily 2-3 times as long as cycling.

I also agree the value of London transport is excellent, but I'm just saying it's not cheap. Especially if you are looking at tube/train/tram/bus transfers it starts to add up shockingly fast. Even with a travelcard I'd be paying £141.40/month which is just too much to swallow when I only have a 6-mile commute and arrive in the same amount of time as the fastest tube. Plus with the crowds, disruptions, strikes, "persons under a train" and other random commuter trauma I just can't say enough good things about cycling in London.


It's cheap compared to the rest of the country. Outside of London it's barely worth thinking about taking buses even if there's a direct one. Hell, I've taken a bus that literally dropped me on the doorstep of where I was going and regretted it - the bus was so irregular it'd have been quicker to walk and the tickets overpriced.


By cheaply I meant cheaper than a taxi. There's always a limit to how cheap vehicles powered by electricity or fuel, and which involve human employees, and which use a common causeway (whether that's rail or road), can be.

£2 to rent a bicycle for 24 hours seems pretty reasonable, btw. I live in a city where I'd kill for that.


It's actually £50 to rent a Boris bike for 24 hours. £2 is 24-hour access, but only if you keep the journeys under 30 mins. The £90/year is a pretty good deal actually (even after they doubled it from £45 which it was for the first year), I still pay for it even though I own a bicycle just for the convenience of supplementing my walking speed at will.


Ah, that's a bit of a bummer. Still, I might try it out on Sunday to see exactly how far 30 minutes gets me, as I'm there for the weekend and have a free day.


There's also the parking issue: especially in the rush hour, they can be hard to find parking spots for.


Buses and trains are not exactly cheap, and trains stop at about 12.


They're certainly cheaper than any taxi I've ever taken in my life.


This would simply translate to the choice between a) using Uber with the driver relying on a navigator unit and possibly driving slow and/or unoptimal routes but with a cheaper price vs. b) traditional taxis that cost more but really know the city. (Or try to get an Uber driver with good ratings for local knowledge, if Uber supports that sort of rankings.)

In a city that has mostly bad taxis, I'd choose Uber. I London I might just not.


If knowing the city gives someone an advantage there probably is a traffic organization problem


>> quite unnecessary in the age of smartphones.

Maybe in the USA, which always gets first class treatment from US tech companies when it comes to maps. In the rest of the world, which doesn't have as good as policy of open government data, or consitant addressing schemes, smartphones aren't always a wonder tool.


To be honest. I find "The Knowledge" vastly overrated. Uber drivers have given me a much better and consistent experience than black cabs to the point where I stopped using black cabs altogether.


Agreed, that isn't just London, in NYC it is the same way. There are seasonal changes in traffic that can completely alter the route you should take to different parts of the city that seem illogical. Navigation systems don't currently take that into account.


Why don't they? Google normally seems pretty good about recognizing changes in traffic patterns and selecting alternate routes.


A good taxi driver will recognize that if there is a major event in an hour, it's better to avoid some routes, even though Google maps might still be showing them as perfectly clear. They won't be in 30 minutes.


Not really, I live about an hour outside of the city and carpool in everyday. I can tell you first hand that Google is always late in recognizing traffic pattern changes. It's actually become a bit of a joke amongst our car pool because we get the alert once we're already stuck in traffic.


Absolutely, and the best kind of learning is learning by doing.


Then choose a different taxi from Uber/Lyft. Why impose these rules if mutually consenting adults want to engage in a transaction between each other?


Uber isn’t the problem; taxi regulations are

Can't it be both? Because I'm pretty sure it's both.


While i agree with the premise that many taxi regulations are outdated, this article seems to be either poorly informed, or so selective in its representation that it borders on PR, not independent journalism or OP-ED.

Using london as an example of how things are broken is a terrible choice, and great example of how terrible this article is. London routinely ranks number one in the world in customer and tourist satisfaction for taxis. As someone who lives here, i think Uber has its place, but the taxi system is akin to a public good that needs regulation. The barriers to entry and designed to prevent abuse to the privileges that come with being licensed taxi. As a rider, the most important privileges to me are the ability to use bus lanes, and that i can hail a cab anywhere, anytime, knowing that the vehicle and driver will be safe. Without regulation, its impossible to obtain that standard.

It would be much more helpful to start with an informed and complete view of the situation (which varies in every city), than build a straw man from which the author argues for a complete reform in governance and regulation in all marketplaces(really? thats the point here?)


I have no problem with regulation. I object to artificial limitation.

If you want to set minimum standards for taxi drivers, to ensure the safety of drivers, I am absolutely fine with that.

But anyone who wants to take the test should be able to, and there should be no artificial limit on the numbers.


One interesting aspect of limiting taxi numbers is that, as far as I understand the history, the first instance of doing so was imposed on taxi drivers by the public, rather than imposed by taxi drivers for guild-type reasons. London passed (one of?) the first taxi-regulation laws in the mid 17th century in response to popular outcry about the rapidly multiplying and unregulated hackney carriage operators; the law tried to bring order to the sector by both regulating the equipment & drivers, and putting a limit on the number that could enter the city.


This is a fascinating piece of historical context. Regulation has a demand side, nut just a supply side.

Worth keeping in mind.

Likewise, the public tends to demand regulation when the cognitive overhead is prohibitive for an individual,[1] bur more economic at scale by a neutral party. The latter is especially efficient ex ante as opposed to ad hoc.

Again, there are multiple views on what is rational, light and efficient depending only on abstraction and completeness.

[1] Eg, when faced with too much choice, under too small a timeframe, with opaque or imperfect information, and costly information processing techniques.


That might make sense for hailed taxis, in which there is a congestion risk, as drivers have to maintain visibility on dense roads.

It has much less relevance for a purely call-and-wait service, which is why application to services like Uber is questionable.


Of course regulation is needed. Insurance, car-standard, driver skill, all of that has to be known by the customer merely by the fact that you are stepping into a taxi.

Can there be too much regulation, too archaic? Sure, but I can't see how that motivates sidestepping it entirely.

In Stockholm, taxis (normal ones) are regulated in terms of insurance etc. but unlike most other cities, taxi prices are not regulated. This hasn't meant lower prices through healthy competition but rather hundreds of scam companies charging 10x the fares of the 2-3 largest companies that have 95% of the market. I miss the days of more regulation, but won't use Uber merely because they don't guarantee union wages etc like the other companies do.


> I miss the days of more regulation, but won't use Uber merely because they don't guarantee union wages etc like the other companies do.

This raises the question, do you refuse to use any service that doesn't guarantee union wages? If so, picking up an econ textbook will pay for itself in no time.


It's hard to trace products through the entire chain of production, but yes, in Sweden it's quite hard to buy products and services produced without the union setting the wages (there are no minimum wages set by law, only unions, and the union negotiates wages also for non-union employees). It might be under the headline "Scandinavian model" of that econ textbook.


Ah, sorry to knock your country of residence, perhaps unions work differently in Sweden. In the USA, unions use their monopoly power to push wages above the competitive rate, at the expense of consumers, the unemployed, and nonunion workers. Imagine if you were looking for your first job, and you were only allowed to be employed at union rates. It would not be easy to convince an employer to hire you. Perhaps that's why so many youth in Sweden are unemployed?

Also, in the US, I have the freedom to negotiate my own wages, rather than having them negotiated for me by a union over which I have no control. This means that if I work harder or smarter I will earn more. Personally, I like having control over my own destiny in this way, and society at large reaps the benefits of more motivated and productive workers.


If wages were left to market mechanisms, there would be no need for a set minimum wage. The fact that there is a minimum wage, and that many earn just that, is a clear indication that the market price of labor isn't negotiated between parties of equal strength.

To be clear: regardless of who sets the minimum wage, there is a minimum wage, and you aren't free to take a job under that level. To be honest, it would seem easier to "control" the union of which you are a member, than to adjust the minimum wage. It's just two organizations where one (congress/parliament) feels larger and further away.

A huge drawback of a single minimum wage (not differing between different parts of the labor market) is that it will spel trouble for companies when businesses on different parts of the cycle would be treated the same. As an example, here companies relying on export such as truck makers are hugely sensitive to drops in global economy, and unions will accept frozen wages to limit layoffs as soon as bad times hit, which it does early in the cycle. Meanwhile service jobs or the public sector may be at a completely different point in the economy cycle, with perhaps 1-2 years before bad times hit. To use the same wages in both parts of the labor market would be a rather blunt solution.


I agree with you that a minimum wage can be beneficial in industries where wages are not negotiated between parties of equal strength, for example, the giant Walmart that employs half the people in town. In this case, economic models show that a minimum wage could actually increase employment by pushing wages closer to what the competitive wage would be.

However, I'd argue that in many (if not most) industries this is not the case. In fast-food and software, for example, the workers are free to move between employers at will, giving the workers significant power to negotiate.

I remain skeptical that governments (or unions) are smart enough to set the correct minimum wage without going under or overboard, which would hurt the unemployed and consumers. A better solution, I think, is a basic income system that ensures nobody is in poverty. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income


> In fast-food and software, for example, the workers are free to move between employers at will, giving the workers significant power to negotiate.

In jobs like these, few employees tend to be unionized. I have seen strong unions modtly in manufacturing, health care and such.


“We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters, though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform, combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate…Masters, too, sometimes enter into particular combinations to sink the wages of labour even below this rate. These are always conducted with the utmost silence and secrecy till the moment of execution; and when the workmen yield, as they sometimes do without resistance, though severely felt by them, they are never heard of by other people” In contrast, when workers combine, “the masters..never cease to call aloud for the assistance of the civil magistrate, and the rigorous execution of those laws which have been enacted with so much severity against the combination of servants, labourers, and journeymen.” - A Wealth of Nations


> Can there be too much regulation, too archaic? Sure, but I can't see how that motivates sidestepping it entirely.

Sidestepping lots of regulation is the only way to get around the archaic parts. There certainly won't be a referendum on taxis.


I think that is very much up to the local political climate, whether there are companies/groups that want to protect the status quo, and so on. Uber is a global thing, it may have started because of local taxi regulation in the US, but all I'm saying is that it isn't necessarily the same thing everywhere.


Why do you conclude that the unregulated taxi prices aren't lower than they would be with regulation?


Empirical only, of course it isn't a perfect natural experiment as there is no control group. We can't know what the regulated prices would have been.


I am not a fan of the medallion system, but Uber does seem to impact the businesses of traditional, local cab drivers while raking in profits on a global scale.

It looks like a perfect middle-class job destroying operation that centralizes profits in one multinational company.

As someone put it, those with the more powerful computers will win the economic spoils.


I think there should be an UBER competitor ,that really helps cities build their own clone effectively.

If that's possible politically , it would be interesting : the cities would have regulatory power to win over UBER, this very critical business that's might just be the future of transport will be in public hands and hopefully will be guided to the good of the community, and drivers will be compensated fairly.

But getting the politics right is very difficult.


As someone who regularly uses taxis in Melbourne, I don't care if it destroys the lives of taxi drivers. That's just another perk of switching to uber in my opinion.


And as someone who uses them on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane, I'm right there with you. A corrupt industry, where the drivers are being completely screwed over as-is, and a few people at the top rake in all the money... basically, the same as Uber, only Uber is cheaper and has nicer cars.


Are the taxi drivers allowed to use both Uber and the medallion system?


Many do.


You make it sound like the Wal-Mart of Taxi operations, not saying you're wrong.


The article concentrates on aspects that are certainly archaic - the expectancy that a taxi driver knows every street in a city. On the other hand, it totally ignores the benefits of the regulation: the client can have normalized expectations over all businesses.

E.g. in germany, your insurance status if an Uber car crashes is unknown - it depends whether the driver is insured. On the other hand, it is clearly regulated what happens when a registered taxi crashes down to what fees you have (or do not have) to pay.

I do agree that the regulation is probably outdated, but many of the aspects make sense if you see a Taxi network as an important piece of infrastructure.


At least in Berlin, with an app that I can also use to pay like Uber (mytaxi), I can have a pristine regulated taxi (usually a newish Mercedes) to my door in five minutes. And it costs 30% less than Uber.

But in the US, you have idiotic cities where taxis are expensive and some even charge per person, are dirty, dilapidated cars with rude drivers. Uber is nice there..


I have a similar view of the taxis here in Edinburgh - I use the same taxi company both for work and personal trips and they are great, can use an app or IVR to book really easily.

The taxis are always spotless and the drivers very pleasant.


In cities such as Bangkok or New Delhi, taxi's are very plenty, and not very expensive, so extremely useful important piece of infrastructure (except the traffic jams).

However, in cities in Europe, the price of a taxi is simply way too high. Whether you can afford it or not, paying 20 Euros to be transported a few KM or 70 Euros if it's a few 10 KM's is just too insanely high. It is more something for abnormal occasions only.


In Bangkok Taxis are dirt cheap.

What I noticed, though, are more and more cabs with doctored meters. That can be rather small time. For example: manipulating the kilometers driven in order to get a higher fare at the destination, or it can be very, very blatant.

I once took a cab from the airport to Silom. The initial fare was correct (35bt), but then the meter immediately went into cardiac arrest mode and just went ape shit.

This shouldn't be the case. The 35bt entry fee (about $1) gets you about a mile (depending on wait times), before it slowly goes up in 2 bt intervals. That meter must have been doctored by a factor of 10 - 15 (which I thought stupid as hell, because instantly noticeable).

A trip to my hotel at that meter rate would easily have been 3000 - 5000 baht. Instead of the normal 300 - 400 bt.

However, this being Thailand, what you should never, ever do is directly accusing the driver. There's that face saving thing, that Thais take very, very seriously.

Accusing him may get you into one of the less touristy areas in town, where you meet a number of the driver's friends wielding crow bars and baseball bats. And I'm not exaggerating here.

I resolved the dilemma, by pretending to consult my watch, making a shocked face and mumbling something around the line of "oh, Friday; traffic very, very bad in Bangkok, please bring me to Skytrain station").

The interesting thing was he knew that I knew, but didn't make any problems and brought me there.

While this example was extreme I experienced multiple rides that where slightly more expensive than they should have been in Bangkok.

So: beware!


Taxis in Bangkok are really something. There is so many of them and they are constantly driving around the city, most of them empty (red light). The economics of this must be really strange. Don't they have to pay for gas? How much fuel is burned by keeping all these cars in motion (not that there's anywhere to park them anyway).


Is that really a problem? If he's not insured you're just gonna sue him or Uber.


You can't sue Uber if a driver crashes, because drivers are independent contractors. You can sue the driver, but he has no money and can just dodge the judgment in bankruptcy.


Are you sure? If I'm hit by a drunk driver I can sue the bar. All you need is one judge that thinks Uber has some culpability and you can sue away.


There's two differences there: 1) those suits are the result of special laws ("dram shop laws") that extend liability to bars; 2) liability in those cases arises when the bar did something negligent (serve someone who appeared to be drunk, serve a minor, etc).

Absent a special law, you can only sue a business for the negligence of its employees under the theory of respondeat superior: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Respondeat_superior. The essence of the theory is that businesses should be liable for the risks created by their employees acting within the scope of their employment.

However, respondeat superior does not apply when the tortfeasor (the person who acted negligently) is an independent contractor. When it comes to employees, a business can reduce incidences of negligence through training, setting procedures, etc. They exert a great deal of control over how the employee does his work. That's not true in the case of independent contractors, like Uber drivers.


Thanks for that... I learned something today!


There is the basic principle that anyone can be sued for the consequences of their actions. Uber arranged that drive. They didn't check for insurance status. That could be cause enough. Plus between you and the driver there exists no business relationship. So you can argue that there's nothing to sue about.

Besides who would you sue ? "The driver" doesn't work too wel. You'd sue Uber to get the name of the driver in the first place.

This go-between-suit is pretty common in legal cases. What should happen is this. Judge agrees Uber owes your medical bills/restitution/whatever applies. Judge also agrees that Uber can get this amount from their driver. Then Uber has to cough up the money, but if they ask for delay in payment until their suit of the driver is finished, 99% certain they'll get that. Then you get the choice of getting the money from Uber, or joining Uber's suit against the driver (not a hard choice with Uber).


That's a common misconception. If I loose a leg, the driver will probably never be able to pay the sum, go through personal bankruptcy and leave me with a nice sum I sued for, but no actual money.


Suing takes time, and even if you succeed the person/company might not be able to pay. Insurance companies pay out immediately if there are medical bills to pay.


"Insurance companies pay out immediately if there are medical bills to pay."

That's not true at all. And it REALLY depends on which state (in the USA) you are in. Florida for example is a no-fault state. Which means, basically, insurance companies are on the hook for the first 10k. Which is about how much it coast to mend a broken leg. Anything above that requires a lawsuit. And you don't sue the insurance company. You are suing a person (or company).

Lawsuits take time. Lots of time.

A taxi driver in Florida has different requirements. So does the company he drives for. The amount they pay out is much higher. Also, not every issue requires a lawsuit. Sometime you just get a bad driver. With Uber, who you gonna complain too? Uber?

In most states, complaining to the taxi commission is a serious offense and has to be answered by the driver and company he drives for.

I don't have a problem with Uber itself. If people want to drive others around, fine. BUT totally unfair to require taxi drivers to be licensed and not the Uber drives. It's unfair to make the taxi driver (and company) have much higher insurance requirements than Uber and it's divers. And it's unfair to the rider. If you are in an Uber car and you have a wreck; you better hope that driver has more then "what's minimum" for insurance. Chances are, he doesn't. And you're fucked.

PS: This is true for car services, and even courier services too, by the way.


We're talking Germany here. Free healthcare.


Even with free healthcare you might be compensated for permanent injuries. In that case the insurance company still pays.


That means, the public should pay for one companies profit?


No, public healthcare makes sure you get on your foot again an then tries to get their money back as any other insurance would.

So, the public makes sure the damage of you being hurt, unable to work and maybe turning out to be a case for social security because of being maltreated is avoided.


And who should pay for that lawsuit?


You or lawyer takes the cut after winning. Case like that will make Uber to require insurance from all drivers. Problem solved without extra regulations and bureaucracy that will cause problem in the future, as we have now.


That's right, you won't find any regulations or bureaucracy in the court system!


I love the idea of rating services and customers as each business transaction happens. This allows both sides to quickly weed out bad actors.

The more I see services like Ebay, AirBnB, Uber, Lyft, and so forth operate, the more I'm amazed at how much former regulation can be replaced with better information for all concerned.


Taxi cabs are just one of the professions suffering from the problem of competition being in conflict with professional standards (ie, self-regulation). The only option that will be fully serviceable remains government regulation, but it will need to take on a new format.


How do you know? Is there a study that shows cabs need government regulation.


If you're imagination needs broadening... se, eg

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7948931

or the many parallels to

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7935819


The first one is just promotion of mercantilism and the second seems more like obscurantism. Just use fancy words to hide the fallacy. Trust can be build by simple rating system and private certifications with mostly better standarts. The taxi regulations benefit mainly professionals at the cost of society as a whole because it cripples competition and that leads to higher costs for the consumers. I would like to have cheaper taxis at the expense of some security. Others could just go with a certificated taxi company.


I spent a week in Paris.

I felt cheated _every time_ I took a regular cab. The meter could be set to various modes (L1- Day in City, L2- Evening in City / Suburb, L3 - Late nights, etc.) and I was never sure if it was on the correct mode. Also, the drivers were rude and acted as if they were doing me a favor.

Uber although slightly more expensive, was dramatically better. The drivers were polite, helpful and I never got scammed on the charge. Moreover, I didn't have to deal with foreign currency coins and notes.


Maybe it's just that it's not really an issue where I live, but what problem is Uber trying to solve?

The main issue is getting a taxi in really small towns in the middle of nowhere, but it seems unlikely that Uber would have someone in these places, simply because there isn't really a demand.

I find it really hard to see Uber as anything but a taxi company that tries to underbid the competition by not following the same rules as everyone else.


"The reason Uber could be expensive is because you're not just paying for the car — you're paying for the other dude in the car," Kalanick said. "When there's no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle. So the magic there is, you basically bring the cost below the cost of ownership for everybody, and then car ownership goes away."


its amazing how so many individuals can manage all this bureaucracy just fine... but trendy web startups can not.

srsly. its embarassing.


Who doesn't love a gypsy cab?




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